PTSD, Anxiety and Massage

Human touch, that is one thing that every human being needs in life to thrive. Without human touch an infant will actually cease to thrive. Children will become withdrawn, will not be able to retain new information being taught and they will begin to slow in their physical development. Adults will experience more chronic disease, depression, anxiety, stress, irritability. They experience less relationship satisfaction and they also begin to experience less ability to interpret emotions of others which leads to unsympathetic behaviour and lack of empathy. People need touch regardless of how old you are. If you do not receive it, you will not thrive in life.

In Psychology Today they call it “skin hunger”. They quoted “Three out of every four adults agree with the statement, “Americans suffer from skin hunger.”

More Americans live alone than ever before.One in four Americans reports not having a single person to talk to about important issues.Loneliness among American adults has increased by 16 percent in the last decade.”

It wasn’t long ago that we lived in groups, everyone had a front lawn, people knew exactly who their neighbours were, they went to dinners, stopped by unannounced, phoned “just because”. Before then we lived with extended family. Grandparents, parents and children. Sometimes aunts, uncles and cousins all under one roof. Touch was inevitable. Hugs were ample. Most of the time you were surrounded by people who loved you and supported you. Now we live in a society that it has become almost taboo to touch someone. People are wondering “is that an abuse of authority, is there consent, was a line crossed in the family/friend/co-worker/stranger?” We have become more “plugged in” and less in-tune to our inside and outside needs to live a healthy life. When people go without regular forms of touch such as hugs, pats on the back, hand holding, cuddling etc they can resort to self soothing, which is not a bad thing if it’s a soft blanket, warm baths, anything that would give comfort to the skin. However some are prone to seek other methods of comfort, drugs, alcohol, gambling, over eating and other forms of addiction. This happens because the brain is looking for the oxytocin that it releases when it is touched by another human being. Oxytocin is the hormone the brain creates to bring on feelings of love, acceptance, confidence, satisfaction. Without human touch we no longer get the regular daily release of this hormone.

Regular massage can help, and it can be extremely beneficial for people who have PTSD, anxiety and or depression. PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. ... Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives. Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. All of these diagnosis’s have a these few things in common. 1). Lack of serotonin production. 2) Lack of oxytocin production and 3) Lack of dopamine production These three chemicals can be produced and increased in the brain by touch.

When a person received regular massage for PTSD, anxiety and/or depression a few things start to occur. If its your first time, you will probably be too much in your head, analyzing what your therapist is doing, how the hands, arms and maybe elbows feel. Wondering if it is suppose to feel like that or if they’re suppose to be in that area… Not too much relaxing can happen usually. However, your skin will respond to touch, which sends signals to your brain that this can be a good thing [pending your therapist is not causing pain….]. The following week, the client goes back because they are following a treatment plan and want to get better. This time they know a little more of what to expect and feel a little bit more comfortable. During the massage, the persons cortisol level goes down on average 30% according to the Mayo clinic. With this reaction the body can produce more serotonin which increases by 28% which as a result your body will be able to deal with pain, anxiety and feelings of sadness much more effectively.

Specifically when dealing with PTSD massage has proved to be very effective. The reason being is that it promotes the overall relaxation. This can result in improved sleep patterns, less pain and they begin to have a shift in their thinking that is more positive because they feel better physically. When massage is specifically for PTSD the therapist responsibility is to provide as much control to the client as possible and human touch that is kind, stimulating and empowering. So many people feel like they have no power in their life so this approach is crucial in order to help the client feel in control, and relaxed while their physical pain is being soothed. The importance of the client consult is also another vital part of relief for the client. When a detailed discussion over their intake form is allowed, this gives the opportunity for the client to ask questions, get clarity on what to expect and give informed consent. If this piece is missing from the equation the client once again will feel like they have no control in what is done to their body and will not experience as much healing as they potentially could. Discussion, inquiring, explanation, kindness, soothing touch…. All of this equals the right steps in the right order to facilitate the best healing environment that the massage therapist can provide with PTSD.

Massage has the potential to work extremely well when other therapies are combined such as Counciling, regular doctor checkins, and any other form of therapy that the client chooses to incorporate in their recovery. This WILL increase serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin levels in the brain so that not only the body begins to be able to heal itself, but also the brain. The body is a powerful tool and when given the right support when the going gets tough, the body can heal itself intuitively.

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